As concerns about the Delta coronavirus variant drove new federal guidelines for mask-wearing indoors for all people in certain areas — regardless of vaccination status — the spotlight turned to whether local school districts would move to require masks this fall.
Cherry Creek School District signaled in a July 30 message to the community that a mask requirement may be the route the district chooses, but the decision was not to be made until after Colorado Community Media's press deadline.
“We are working with our partners at Tri-County Health Department (TCHD) and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to determine how the newest CDC recommendation may affect Cherry Creek Schools. We will follow the TCHD guidance and finalize our plan early next week,” the message from Superintendent Christopher Smith read.
The message continued: “We will then inform our community about mask guidance or requirements, along with other health protocols that will be in place as school begins for students the week of Aug. 16.
“As always, we will continue to align with changing guidance from the state or county throughout the school year,” the message read.
Schools could return with little to no social distancing or mask requirements in August. The state public-health department released new P-12 school COVID-19 guidelines on July 20, but the new guidance “does not constitute statewide requirements,” a state news release said. Instead, the guidance outlines “best practices” for local governments and school districts.
Local health agencies such as Tri-County Health Department — the local public health agency for Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties — can decide for themselves whether to require precautions and be stricter than the state.
After the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new mask guidance in late July, Tri-County echoed that guidance, saying in a July 30 release that it recommends that “all persons wear masks in school settings regardless of vaccination status and, as long as we have rising rates of community transmission, that everyone including fully vaccinated persons wear a mask in public indoor settings.”
The CDC's guidance recommends "universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status," according to the CDC's website.
The CDC guidance applies to schools everywhere — and to other indoor settings in counties with “substantial transmission” of the virus, according to John Douglas, executive director of Tri-County Health.
The CDC guidance update was based on surges in infection due to the Delta variant in many parts of the United States, as well as evolving understanding of vaccinated persons' ability to transmit Delta infection and slowing rates of vaccination, according to the Tri-County news release.
With Tri-County deciding not to require masks, the choice of whether to mandate masks falls to school districts.
Tri-County Health “has been working with our school districts to achieve optimal in-person learning and prevent transmission of COVID-19 and will continue to do so to help them understand how best to apply … new guidance,” the agency said in the news release.
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